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Weightlifting meet seen as boon for state’s high school athletics

By Donna Stephens

This article was originally published May 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. Updated May 24, 2013 at 12:25 p.m.

Batesville Southside improved its performance in the recent Arkansas High School Weightlifting Championship, but more weight didn’t equate to a successful defense of the Class 4A state championship from 2012.

Still, Kenny Simpson’s Southerners finished runner-up in Class 4A. They combined to lift 4,715 pounds at the 21st state championship at Russellville, behind only Booneville (4,825).

“We pulled more weight as a team, but the competition got a little better,” said Simpson, in his second year as football and weight coach at Southside. “When we won it last year, it was the first state championship on the boys side in anything.

“Obviously, if you win a state championship, you want to repeat, but you really can’t be disappointed if the kids did the best they could do.”

Beebe’s Badgers lifted 4,565 pounds to finish runner-up in Class 5A behind Nettleton (4,815).

It’s a long offseason for high school football players who don’t move on to other sports, and the state weight meet provides the goal at the end of the grind.

The 21st state championship was held at Russellville in April. Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado was the individual winner, lifting 385 pounds in bench press and 335 in power clean for a combined total of 720. Trent Cheek of England was second with 445-255—700; Brian Cline-Karns of Ozark was third at 415-275—690.

The total weight lifted provides the individual score, and the combined weight lifted for each team provides the team score.

The top individual finisher from the Three Rivers Edition coverage area was Sawyer Keller of Southside, sixth in the heavyweight division (375 bench, 265 power clean—640).

“We’ll have anywhere from 400 kids plus participate,” said Jeff Holt, head football coach at Russellville and coordinator of the event since 2002.

This year, more than 40 schools brought full teams of 10 lifters. Other schools bring individuals.

“It’s been steady that we’ve grown to that, and now we’re starting to see new teams get in,” Holt said. “It’s a widespread event. We’ll have southern Arkansas, eastern Arkansas, northwest Arkansas and central Arkansas all represented every year.”

Awards are given to the top three in each weight class, as well as to the top school in each of five classifications. Rison won Class 2A with a team total of 4,790 pounds. Fountain Lake won Class 3A (5,125), and Bryant won Class 6A/7A (5,015).

Weight classifications are heavyweight, 259 and under, 242 and under, 220 and under, 198 and under, 181 and under, 165 and under, 148 and under, 132 and under, and 123 and under.

Other top individual results from the Three Rivers region included Jordan Childress of Southside, tied for fourth in 198 (305-250—555); Michael Kirby of Beebe, third in 148 (255-235—490); Jaylen Haynes of Southside, tied for ninth in 165 (235-245—480); Jake Hendricks of Southside, fifth in 148 (245-215—460); Micah Dubose of Beebe, tied for fifth in 132 (205-175—380); and Bo Small of Southside, tied for 10th in 123 (164-145—310).

“You want to get them as strong as the body will allow,” Holt said. “Sometimes that’s strong enough to win, and sometimes it’s not, but giving them a goal or something to shoot for is how we feel that the weight meet helps.

“It’s an opportunity for them to compete. It gives them something in the offseason to shoot for and try to get on that top 10 weightlifting group so they can compete for their school.”

Beebe coach John Shannon agreed. The Badgers have participated in the event for the past six years.

“We finished third (in their classification) the first year, second the second year, first the third year and second the last three years,” he said. “It means a lot to the kids and gives them something to look forward to each year, plus it is nice to have something to compete for that time of the year when not much is going on.”

Like Russellville, Simpson said, Southside picked the top lifters in each weight class for its state meet contingent.

“It’s definitely an incentive for them,” he said.

David Bazzel, former University of Arkansas All-Southwest Conference linebacker, started the event; Holt and Russellville volunteered to take charge in 2002.

“[Bazzel] saw a need for kids in the offseason to have something to compete in,” Holt said. “There was no state weightlifting meet in Arkansas.”

Although the event is not sanctioned by the Arkansas Activities Association, the governing body of the state’s high school sports, Holt said he doesn’t think that is a problem.

“We haven’t pursued sanctioning,” he said. “I think what we do is sufficient.”

The event has turned out to be more than sufficient for the Southerners on the football field. Simpson said that when he took the job in 2011, Southside had suffered through back-to-back 0-10 seasons in 2009 and ’10.

“They were really, really struggling,” he said. “One of the things we wanted to do when we got here was make the weight room a priority.”

In 2011, Southside finished 5-6. In 2012, the Southerners were 5-5-1.

“We are trying to slowly get better,” Simpson said. “We’re big believers that we’ve got to get our kids faster and stronger to compete, and we feel it’s carried over.

“We were very proud of them.”

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